Bzzzzzzzzzzzzz the most recognized bee broker is Joe in Bakersfield.
June 10, 2021 7:08 PM   Subscribe

Scientific Beekeeping's Randy Oliver gave the inside honeycomb perspective on the high stakes negotiations between beekeepers and California's almond growers. With the huge jump in almond acreage came an increased need for pollinators, an estimated 1.3 million bees were needed in 2007. With California home to only a half million bees total, what price would motivate Midwestern beekeepers to truck their bees into California? $50 per colony? $80? $125? $160? By 2012, some hives rented for $150 each, with each individual bee earning 1¢ for a month’s wages.

Two more suggested pages at Scientific Beekeeping: beekeeping in a nutshell; the economy of the hive;
posted by spamandkimchi (27 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
do they pay the bees individually or do they pay the queen

do they put their wages in moneycombs
posted by Merus at 7:29 PM on June 10 [16 favorites]

At this rate pretty soon they’re gonna call the beekeepers and say “Gimme five bees for a quarter.”
posted by azpenguin at 7:32 PM on June 10 [7 favorites]

Aww my husband (backyard beekeeper) is a huge Randy Oliver fanboy. Gonna share this with him.
posted by supermedusa at 7:35 PM on June 10

The natural result of this is beehive theft. A major thief was just sentenced this past January.
posted by hippybear at 7:57 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]

unionizzzzzzzzzzzzzze … no money, no honey
posted by scruss at 8:01 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]

To grow one almond requires 1.1 gallons of water, and to grow a pound takes 1,900 gal/ lb[1].

There's a drought in California.

Water rights law is arcane, but this is just, well, nuts.
posted by dum spiro spero at 8:07 PM on June 10 [15 favorites]

An estimated 1.3 million bees were needed in 2007.

That should probably be 1.3 million bee colonies, not individual bees. Per this document, in 2016, there were 1.6 million bee colonies. Each colony occupies their physical home, the hive.

With an average 30,000 bees per hive, then this means that about 48,000,000,000 bees are occupied in the California Almond business.
posted by Rumple at 9:10 PM on June 10 [7 favorites]

An estimated 1.3 million bees were needed in 2007.

That should probably be 1.3 million bee colonies, not individual bees.

When it comes to bees, only Queens really count ;)
posted by jamjam at 10:54 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]

The natural result of this is beehive theft. A major thief was just sentenced this past January.

Caught in a sting operation. He belongs in a cell.
posted by adept256 at 1:07 AM on June 11 [6 favorites]

A cancer upon our apiaries.
posted by ryanrs at 1:49 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]

The last two links are quite meaty, thank you for posting!
posted by coolname at 3:12 AM on June 11

So, not only does almond growing use an inordinate amount of water, it also uses an inordinate amount of the nation's bee supply?
posted by Thorzdad at 4:40 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]

Say, you don't know me, but that you need me
To spread your pollen with some zeal
To any of you who just want some bees
Go rent from Joe in Bakersfield

posted by stevis23 at 6:10 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]

We learned this early on in the association meetings - if you want to make money in beekeeping, it's not in selling honey. Honey is good and well, but it can be labor intensive at small scale and like anything else in agriculture, is highly dependent on the weather.

The way to make money is beekeeping is to raise bees to sell to other beekeepers: small colonies that can be used to create larger colonies ("nucs") or just queens. Queen-rearing is its own thing but making splits to create more colonies isn't terribly complicated if you have the space and woodenware. You may not get much honey out of a new colony that first year, so you've got to make a decision in your keeping approach - am I optimizing for as large a honey crop as possible, or is this a year for splitting and trying to get into fall/winter with 2x solid colonies in preparation for next spring?
posted by jquinby at 6:36 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]

Yeah, as far as large-scale commercial beekeepers are concerned, honey is a sideline. They are in the business of offering pollination services, moving hives around the country as different crops come into flower.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:46 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]

The work experience for the bees, of course, is priceless.
posted by sylvanshine at 9:06 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]

It's about 50k bees per hive, if you're doing the math at home. An average honeybee lives only like 4 months. In case you want to set up a word problem.
posted by blnkfrnk at 11:23 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]

Commercial beekeeping is about everything BUT the bees, IMO. They transport bees hundreds or thousands of miles in semis, with only HFCS (or equivalent) for food, which stresses the bees.
Then they cram them into almond orchards at levels much higher than would naturally occur (while crowding out any native pollinators), which makes the bees compete for food - which further stresses the bees.
From all the stress, the bees are then more vulnerable to parasites (mites) and the diseases they carry. So to counter that, the commercial beekeepers use all manner of miticides and “medications” - which further stresses the bees.
The comment in TFA about not making money from honey, but from new bee colonies was the money quote for me. Sellers who don’t care about queens who are properly bred will sell you a queen and nuc (about 500 bees), and she’ll lay mostly drones, who don’t produce honey, or pollinate. All for $125.00.
12 years ago when we started beekeeping, you could get a properly bred queen and nuc for about $25. Our first colony lasted through several generations of splits. After about six years, we started losing more and more hives, as the varroa destructor mite became more prevalent, and resistant to treatment. We gave up after two years of buying crappy queens and having our hives die every year. It was heartbreaking to open the hive in the spring and see bee bottoms instead of a thriving hive. Also, we do not have bottomless wallets for poorly bred queens.
We are having much better luck with pollination by encouraging local, native pollinators.
posted by dbmcd at 12:16 PM on June 11 [7 favorites]

Came for the bee/beekeeping puns and was not disappointed in the least.
posted by ivanthenotsoterrible at 1:05 PM on June 11

dbmcd, how are you able to encourage the native pollinators?
posted by Monday at 2:17 PM on June 11

@monday, we don’t use any pesticides, we let a lot of our winter veg (esp kale and broccoli) flower so they have food early in the year. We have a water features with rocks and floating pieces of wood so the have ample clean water. We also leave some Wendy and plant debris in the garden, and use dry-stack walls in places - this provides spaces for them to lay eggs or nest.
posted by dbmcd at 2:36 PM on June 11 [6 favorites]

An average honeybee lives only like 4 months.

but Eric The Half-A-Bee will live forever.
posted by hippybear at 7:44 PM on June 11

Dbmcd, did you feed through the winter?

We are on our third year of backyard beekeeping, three hives now. I agree that as a hobby it is expensive and not very productive. We started with one hive, split into three the second spring. Hive one is going great guns, two and three are still growing. It’s a slow, careful process. But I love seeing them, watching the larvae and brood grow, seeing the foragers flying around the garden. We have done a couple of small harvests and that keeps us happy.

BTW, the queen is not in charge. The colony is really more of a democracy, with the worker bees making the decisions about hive management, when to swarm, when to replace the queen, when to throw out the drones, etc.
posted by SLC Mom at 5:29 PM on June 12

@SLC Mom - we did feed them (diluted honey), but they should be able to move to where the honey is in the hive, and the last couple years, so many died that they couldn’t stay warm. It was really quite heartbreaking, as they are tough, but fragile creatures.
Also, we never kept them *primarily* for honey, and would always save the surplus for winter feeding. Once we realized the expense AND that honeybees actually outcompete natives for food, it was an easy decision to make.
posted by dbmcd at 2:34 PM on June 13

A new and particularly surprising chapter has recently been added to the already long 'uneasy lies the head that wears a crown' saga of Cape honeybees:
... researchers found that South African Cape honeybee queens reproduce sexually, but the workers reproduce asexually. They then conducted a small experiment—they affixed tape to the reproductive organs of a queen, preventing males from mating with her, and then allowed both her and the worker bees in the same hive to reproduce asexually. They then tested the degree of recombination in both. They found that offspring of the queen had approximately 100 times as much recombination as the worker bees. Even more impressive, the offspring of the worker bees were found to be nearly identical clones of their parent. More testing showed that one line of worker bees in the hive had been cloning themselves for approximately 30 years—a clear sign that workers in the hive were not suffering from birth defects or an inability to produce viable offspring. It also showed that they have evolved a means for preventing recombination when they reproduce. The researchers note that despite their unique abilities, the bees are still in line with evolutionary theory—they are simply doing what works best for their continued existence.
posted by jamjam at 6:45 PM on June 13 [2 favorites]

So from the years the gifts were showered; each
Took whatever it needed to survive.
Trout finned as trout, peach moulded into peach,
Bees took the politics that make a hive...
Sarah Taber had a nice summary of pollinating and honeymaking bees around the world with little hints about how they're managed differently; previously.
posted by clew at 11:03 AM on June 14

(In a side note, while we have liked eating Almonds in the past, we try not to these days, more about concern with the California water ecology issues.)
posted by ovvl at 4:10 PM on June 14

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